“Leaders need to be comfortable with their own incompleteness.”

As Fereshteh Zeineddin sees it, beauty is much more than skin deep. Her passion for cosmetics (she was a L'Oreal sales manager for two and a half years) is rooted in her appreciation for what beauty can mean. "I am inspired" Fereshteh explains, "by how cosmetics infuse confidence in women in all corners of the world, from executives on Wall Street to Middle Eastern women who use cosmetics as a form of self expression.

Fereshteh's appreciation for what cosmetics can do for women grew out of her unique background. Born in Iran, she spent much of her childhood in Sweden before her family settled in Vancouver in 1994. She considers herself extremely fortunate to have been exposed to three distinct cultures. "I love people, I love learning about the world by listening to their life experiences," says Fereshteh. "To prepare myself for a career in marketing, I wanted to learn in a place where I would be surrounded by amazing people from different places and backgrounds. HBS was a perfect fit."

"Do you know how you've changed?"

At first, Fereshteh's attraction to HBS was highly practical. "A good brand manager must be an excellent general manager," she says. "When I think of HBS, I think of world-class leaders in general management."

Further, the case method seemed like a good fit for her. "It's the perfect way to learn for someone who loves to speak," Fereshteh says. "And I know it will force me to be a much better listener."

But some of the most important insights have challenged her expectations. "I came to HBS thinking that I would dig deeply into my strengths, then learn where the holes are and fill them." Fereshteh's Analytics professor, Tom Piper, gave her a very different idea. "He said everyone comes to HBS thinking that they need all the answers. But in reality, leaders need to be comfortable with their own incompleteness. One of the biggest things I've learned is that when we accept our weaknesses — and are willing to learn from others — we become much fuller individuals."

This shift in perspective has been noticed by those close to Fereshteh. "When I was on winter break," she says, "my boyfriend said to me, 'Do you know how you've changed? You articulate your arguments differently. You used to base them on your beliefs. Now they're based on facts and reason.' I still have passion," Fereshteh says, "but now I can communicate that passion more effectively."

Managing priorities

Fereshteh's long-term goal involves managing a leading cosmetics or retail company. "But there's also a part of me that wants to be an entrepreneur," she says. Either way, HBS has given her a more powerful way of understanding her priorities. "Being in sales with over one hundred clients and a huge territory, I had thought time management was one of my strengths. But here, the slate is wiped clean. There's no way to fit in everything you want in one day! That's one of the things they really teach here — making choices and setting priorities. That's a lesson I will take with me wherever I go."